Al fresco in Abington

Outdoor seating areas allow some restuarants to open back up

With nine new tables and red umbrellas dotting a freshly poured concrete patio, Old Town Cafe is ready to once again serve breakfast and lunch to seated diners 

“My customers love it,” said owner Aline Macedo. “They’ve been asking if we were going to do it.”

Across Abington, restaurants are setting up white tents and blocking off areas of their parking lots in order to resume serving customers, and hopefully, make money. The industry has been struggling since mid-March when the state prohibited in-person dining in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

As part of the Baker Administration’s phased re-opening of the state, restaurants, which had previously been limited to offering take-out and delivery, can now serve patrons outdoors, provided that tables are six feet apart, among other precautions. 

Mia Regazza, which already had a popular outdoor patio, expanded its outdoor seating capacity and reopened for dining on Monday night. 

“We did very well,” said owner John Martin, who also operates a restaurant in Marshfield.

Martin said the restaurant is strictly following all of the town’s and state’s health and safety guidelines, such as table spacing, paper menus, and taking reservations. 

“I hope they give us indoor seating soon,” he added. “I feel bad for these guys who don’t have an outdoor seating space.” 

Abington Ale House, which already had a sizable outdoor patio during the warm months, has expanded its outdoor seating capacity by adding a new 38-foot-by-48-foot dining section behind the patio. According to owner Mary Barrett Costello, the two areas will allow the restaurant to serve up to 76 people — still a far cry from the establishment’s normal 400-plus capacity.

“This has just been horrific for this industry,” she said of the unprecedented industry shutdown.

The longtime area favorite can employ more than 20 people on a busy night, she said. For the past three months, they’ve only been able to keep on six people to handle the take-out business. 

“We’d like to bring some of our people back, but that’s almost impossible without (outdoor seating) truthfully,” said Costello. “I think everybody’s working really hard to get this industry back on its feet.”

Normally, the process restaurants must follow to open or expand their outdoor seating areas can be lengthy, requiring multiple public hearings before various town boards. If the restaurant also serves alcohol, they would have to also get permission from the town’s licensing board — in Abington, that’s the Board of Selectmen — and the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.

However, Gov. Charlie Baker signed an executive order that allowed municipalities to significantly streamline the permitting and licensing process, making it possible for restaurants to open temporary outdoor seating areas faster. Abington selectmen voted recently to give Acting Town Manager Scott Lambiase broad authority to review and approve formal requests from Abington restaurants looking to open temporary outdoor seating areas. Lambiase also can approve temporary changes to alcohol licenses, allowing them to serve in the outdoor areas.   

Before they can open, restaurants have to fill out an application, provide a drawing of the proposed seating area, prove they have permission to use the space, have insurance coverage, and undergo an inspection by the fire chief, building inspector, and health agent. 

So far, Lambiase has approved requests from Giardino’s, Sorelle, Sarcastic Swine, Abington Ale House, Mia Regazza, and Old Towne Café.

“I’m happy to see these businesses back open,” Selectman Kevin DiMazio said at the board’s meeting Monday night. 

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